Iranian writer-director Jafar Panahi draws a line in the sand early in his new film No Bears, which is glorious, furious and desperate. Under cover of darkness, Panahi, playing a semi-fictional character, arrives in the hills near Iran’s northwestern tip and is so close that the lights of a Turkish city can be seen beckoning from afar. The temptation is undeniable. His colleague (Reza Heydari) urges him to do it, almost a Mephistophelian prank, assuring him that no harm will come. But Panahi refuses. Realizing that he is actually standing at the border itself, he recoils as if he’s been stabbed, unable or unwilling to accept the freedom he’s lost sight of too easily.
This is a poignant moment as the real Panahi has been banned from leaving his home country or traveling abroad since 2010. His situation worsened in recent months.In July he was arrested and jailed.Massive protests erupted across Iran, sparking the most sustained wave of civil unrest in years. “No Bears,” which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September, was completed well before those events began. But like most of Panahi’s films, it supernaturally conforms to the systemic realities of misogyny, rigid traditionalism, and religious fundamentalism that drive this and other Iranian protest movements. increase.
Panahi is currently serving a six-year prison sentence, but “No Bears” will likely be his last film appearance for some time. But part of what he points out in this film is that his constraints are neither purely physical nor his means of resistance. It is full of invisible boundaries, governed by rules and assumptions that Panahi has long challenged with extraordinary wit and good-natured cunning. He has directed more than five of his feature films since the Iranian government imposed his 20-year filmmaking ban on him in 2010. Personal and playful, often shot in secret and produced under tight confinement, these films found their directors increasingly turning inward. Gameally stepping into the role of his own alter ego — a mild yet difficult filmmaker named Jafar Panahi — he talks about the nature of his confinement and of the art forms he can do. I also cynically think about the contradictions and complexities that seem to never quit, even under the worst of circumstances, or especially.
His first film after the ban, cheekily titled ‘This Is Not a Film’ (2011), was a video diary shot while Panahi was under house arrest in Tehran. In his fifth and most recent film, No Bears, the protagonist wanders far from home. This fictional Panahi (let’s call him Panahi Prime) has come to this remote village to get as close as possible to his latest film production being filmed in a nearby Turkish city. This is an inconvenient and far from ideal setup. For one, the virtually non-existent WiFi signal makes it difficult for directors to communicate with cast and crew.At the same time, you suspect that he is partly participating for For the inconvenience, or at least the rustic charm and loneliness that comes with it.
The locals who look after him during his stay – the relentless hosts Ganbar (Vahid Mobasheri) and his mother (Narjes Delaram) cheerfully serving food from their basement ovens – are friendly and attentive and sometimes make mistakes. And Panahi Prime can be a qualified and sometimes uncaring guest. Eventually, he finds himself entangled in a small-town drama of his own making, driven by the simple act of taking a photograph, with absurd and deeply troubling consequences.
At the heart of the matter is a romantic triangle that captures a serious young woman named Gozal (Darya Alei). Her grim-faced fiancée, Jacob (Javad Siyahi). and the man she might really love, Solduz (Amir Dhavari). I said “maybe” because “No Bears,” cleverly constructed to continually reveal new layers of suspense and surprise, boobytraps our assumptions by withholding information. Because I enjoy doing it. A kind of tense, chilling comedy ensues as the villagers’ friendly smiles and pompous manners gradually subside, revealing their latent hostility, their fearsome mob spirit, and their insatiable thirst for scandal. (It also has a knack for obfuscation; the title debunks local lies about bears in the area, which are used to scare people who stray from their villages at night.)
The townspeople are convinced that a visiting filmmaker took and still owns the incriminating photo, which shows Gozal and Solduz together. But he refused to corroborate their suspicions, reiterating in the first place that he had never taken such a photo, and in response to increasingly tough public questioning. Wasn’t it? I didn’t say the movie. The gist of it seems to matter little, given how thoroughly convinced the villagers are about the correctness of their cause, the guilt of the accused, and the complicity of this visitor from the big city. takes many forms, and one of the strengths of “No Bears” is that it refuses to let anyone off the hook, even the ostensible heroes.
If Panahi Prime is innocent in this case, he’s pretty innocent when it comes to Turkish film production, which he directs from afar. filmed in a sharply composed single take that offsets theBakhtiar Panjei) is trying to flee abroad using a fake passport. And then we’re back in the realm of troubled romance, also in a zone of illegal border crossings and human trafficking. They are the subject of a sort of docufiction hybrid, enacting a dramatic version of their own experience, in real time. And in telling their stories, filmmakers risk their safety and risk selling out.
In other words, captured images can cause so many problems. Panahi may be running a world away from Steven Spielberg and Jordan Peele, but it’s interesting that all three of his filmmakers have made films in the past year. Others include Spielberg’s “Fabelmann” and Peele’s “Nope.” Very moderate where they live. Remember, the history of filmmaking is also a history of exploitation and abuse. Stills and footage snippets can reveal hidden truths, but they can also distort those truths beyond recognition. He has a privileged job at , treats his collaborators like property, and eagerly shoves cameras into places where they rarely belong.
Panahi seems to enjoy commissioning himself and his chosen art form. But he doesn’t actually condemn the film, he quarrels with it, interrogates it, languishes in moral gray areas, and invites us to see what he sees. I am doing He loved cinema too much to completely ignore its power. And “No Bears,” steadily darkening toward a climax that feels inevitable and shattering, is both a critique of it and an affirmation of its power.
Given Panahi’s uncertain future and the future of the country that currently imprisons him, its ending, marked by tragedy and tears, becomes all the more intense. It may have fallen short, but the best and bravest new feature I saw last year, “No Bears,” possesses extraordinary emotional power, conceptual ingenuity, and critical It’s a work of great power, and somehow it works. oppose. Paradoxically, Panahi made a great film about a medium that often lacks greatness. You want to see him free.
Execution time: 1 hour 47 minutes
Playing: Starts January 13 at Lemur Royal in West Los Angeles